Last month, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), U.S. Representatives Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), introduced the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021 -- a piece of legislation that would empower Puerto Ricans with an inclusive and democratic process to determine their own political future and relationship with the United States.
The United States has maintained a form of colonial governance over Puerto Rico for well over 100 years. Neither independent nor a full-fledged part of the U.S., the island’s future has been long-debated, and recent political and economic crises have fueled calls for a change to its status.
Congress isn’t settled on the best way to structure Puerto Rico’s self-determination process. A bill that was introduced by Congressman Darren Soto (D-FL) and Puerto Rico's sole representative in Congress, Jenniffer González Colón (R-PR), would admit Puerto Rico as a state, if ratified in a yes/no referendum by the people of Puerto Rico.
The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act takes a different approach. The bill outlines a process for the Puerto Rico legislature to call a status convention, where elected delegates would choose and outline a slate of options for the island’s new status (statehood, independence, free association, etc.), one of which voters would then pick in a referendum. Congress would ratify the results, and Puerto Ricans would finally have a government of their own choosing.
Notably, the bill specifies that the referendum “may be conducted using ranked choice voting.” This system holds promise as a method of giving Puerto Rican voters the agency they have long been denied in determining what the island is to become. With RCV, Puerto Ricans would be empowered to voice their opinions beyond simply choosing one out of several options, so that the outcome of the vote more accurately reflects their preferences. Past referenda have often been inconclusive: at times lacking a diversity of options, getting boycotted by opposition parties, and ending with the winning option carrying only a plurality of votes. RCV would ensure that the winning option has over 50% of the votes. A ranked choice status referendum could yield a clear answer to the status question.
While FairVote does not have an official position on what process should be adopted for self-determination in Puerto Rico, ranked choice voting’s inclusion as an option in the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021 is another example of how the reform can help solve problems across a variety of contexts. If the RCV approach is adopted, it could be an effective way for the people of Puerto Rico to decide their future.